ESFA launches Covid-19 supplier relief for European Social Fund providers

The government has today launched a Covid-19 supplier relief scheme for training providers with European Social Fund (ESF) contracts.

There are 50 eligible providers, according to the Education and Skills Funding Agency, which will have just over one week to bid for the extra financial support as a closing date has been set for 28 May.

The ESFA said the scheme will provide payments to ESF contractors in the form of “repayable advances ahead of actual delivery to support the cash flow of providers with a demonstrated financial need”.

Decisions on applications are planned to be released by 4 June.

According to the ESFA’s guidance, providers will only be eligible if they hold an ESF contract with the agency that was procured as a service under the Public Contract Regulations 2015 and commenced on or after the 1 April 2019.

Providers must have also delivered under their ESF contract during the “six-month period ending 31 March 2020 and submitted individualised learner record or supplementary data in respect of this delivery”.

Another requirement is that they plan to deliver education, training, and support under the contract in April, May and June 2020 – which is when the supplier relief is currently scheduled to end.

If an ESF contractor has furloughed staff to deliver the contract, they must unfurlough them to receive the supplier relief to prevent “double funding”.

Providers’ “contract for services” with the ESFA must not be under “notice of termination” and where the contractor uses subcontractors to deliver, “you must agree to continue to pay them in line with your subcontractor agreement”.

ESF contractors should only apply where they have a “demonstrated need” for advance funding to “maintain capacity within their contract to support learners and/or employers and respond to the economic recovery”.

The supplier relief is in line with the Cabinet Office Procurement Policy Note 02/20 (PPN 02/20) and follows a similar ESFA scheme for apprenticeship and adult education budget funding.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are pleased to announce the launch of the ESFA European Social Fund provider relief scheme in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The scheme will ensure these providers are able to continue to support learners and employers and aid our economic recovery.”

Explaining how the supplier relief will be calculated for successful ESF provider applicants, the agency said: “We will calculate a total relief cap for each ESF contract where support is requested from the scheme. Where ESF contractors hold more than one ESF contract, the relief cap will be calculated and applied to each contract supported.

“The relief cap will be determined at contract level based on the lower of the following: your monthly average earnings based on actual earnings data from October 2019 to March 2020, multiplied by three; or the contract level costs ESF contractors submit as part of stage two in the application process. This is the known as the total relief cap.  The monthly relief cap payment will be the total relief cap divided by three.”

The agency added that payments under this scheme cannot total more than 25 per cent of a provider’s annualised contract value over the three-month period.

In addition, a cap of 90 per cent of the current total contract value will be applied, “taking account of actual reported delivery on the contract and relief payments being sought”.

“This is due to the contracts running until 2021, and an expectation that new starts will continue until December 2020,” the ESFA added.

ESF provider can apply for the scheme via the email address: queries.esf@education.gov.uk. Full guidance can be found here.